A few words with documentary film-maker Justin Webster.

How did "Gabo" - Gabriel Garcia Marquez - a boy from a backward town on the Caribbean coast become a writer who won the hearts of millions?

The most extraordinary discovery about him, I think, is that it was highly unlikely he would ever succeed. His instinct, and his enormous natural drive, which came from many things - such as his unusual family, exposure to death and violence early on, his special talent for friendship. So many things ... I hope the film gives a better answer.

What did you discover about "Gabo" in the course of researching this documentary that shocked or surprised you?

I was shocked by how precarious his teenage years were.


He seemed a very fragile person who managed to survive.

How did this project change your perception of yourself or your own life - did it give you pause for thought?

Many, many times. I have become a Garcia Marquez bore. His attitude to others, superficially frivolous, but really deeply loyal to his friends and generous to everyone he could help. I held fast to the principle that I wouldn't make a hagiography. Hispanic writers especially suffer from this. I wanted to do him justice - as honestly as possible.

What is the single greatest threat to the documentary?

The word itself - it's a big turn off to many, as it means too many different things, like "book". Let's be honest, a lot of documentaries are boring, or aimed at tiny audiences. Easy to confuse fabulous work with reality TV, publicity, web videos, etc. I have nothing against them, but most people don't differentiate.

What film or art influenced you as a child and lit the spark?

When I started to enjoy Shakespeare plays, aged about 14.

If you could be at a table, playing cards, with four key figures in history, who would they be and what would you like to ask any one of them?

Garcia Marquez - what did he love about cinema?

Albert Camus - what was the most important thing in life? Henri Cartier-Bresson - what were his favourite photos and why? George Orwell - what drove him to write?

What is the best biopic you've seen lately and the best biography?

Nick Cave's 20,000 Days on Earth and Juan Belmonte, Matador, by Chaves Nogales.

What is the view from your home in Barcelona? What do you see?

We live in a small village designed by Gaudi - sort of utopian worker's houses.

Tell us your favourite Spanish phrase?

Tener ilusion. Literally, "to have illusion", which means to be happy. Deluded? Like Don Quixote? Or seeing deeper? It's difficult to say.

What do you want to achieve in making your documentaries - is there an "activism" involved? Do you want to force social or political change?

I think you always want to change something, even if it is only something subtle, like people's perceptions. In the case of Gabo, I had a strong desire to paint an honest portrait because his fame easily gets in the way of a what an extraordinary story his was.

Justin Webster's Gabo - a documentary on the life of Gabriel Garcia Marquez - features at the Documentary Edge International Film Festival, May 18-29 at Q Theatre in Auckland. See docedge.nz.